x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

China's Great Green Wall to hold back sands of time

When it is completed in 2050, the Three North Shelter Forest Programme, popularly known in China as the "Green Great Wall", will be 4,500 kilometres long and contain 9.5 million hectares of forestry.

When it is completed in 2050, the Three North Shelter Forest Programme, popularly known in China as the "Green Great Wall", will be 4,500 kilometres long and contain 9.5 million hectares of forestry.

It will be a major weapon in China's effort to hold back the creeping Gobi Desert that is eating into valuable agricultural land in the north, north-east and north-west of the country.

Started in 1978, when the approximately US$8 billion project is completed it will have an impact on 40 per cent of the country's land area, state forestry administration engineers say.

"Taller, wider, deeper, bigger" is the mantra when looking at mega-structure projects being constructed in China and other parts of Asia right now.

In Asia, 35 buildings taller than 200 metres were constructed last year, and 16 in the Middle East, while just six were completed in North America, including only two in the United States.

Four of the six tallest buildings completed last year were in Dubai, including the world's tallest hotel, the impressive 355-metre JW Marriott Marquis.

China's economy may be slowing, but its fondness for adding spectacular towers to the skylines of its ever-expanding cities remains undiminished. China finished 22 buildings taller than 200 metres in last year, which is one third of the global total.

The Shanghai Tower, which will become China's tallest building when it is completed in 2015, topped out recently and there was a ceremony to mark the placement of the final beam on the main structure of the 632-metre project in Shanghai's Pudong business hub.

The 125-storey complex will include offices, a luxury hotel and retail space.

There is growing competition in China to construct the tallest building.

The 660-metre Ping An Finance Centre in the southern city of Shenzhen will, for a time at least, be China's tallest building when it is completed in 2016.

Driving the construction of mega-structures in Asia is a major increase in investment in infrastructure spending by a mixture of governments, domestic banks and increasingly overseas investors.

"Across the Asian region as a whole, we calculate that around $8 trillion will be committed to infrastructure projects over the next decade to remedy historical underinvestment and accommodate the explosion in demand," McKinsey has written in an analysis of infrastructure investment.

Last month saw the inauguration of a $2 billion, 793km pipeline project, which will ship oil and gas from Myanmar to energy hungry China.

With a capacity of 440,000 barrels of crude a day and 12 billion cubic metres of natural gas, the pipelines, which run from near the city of Kunming in south-western China all the way to the Indian Ocean at the Bay of Bengal in Myanmar, are central to Chinese efforts to improve national energy security as its economy continues to expand.

This month, Beijing's commission of reform and development, the city's economic planner, invited foreign investors to bid on 126 urban infrastructure projects collectively seeking 338bn yuan (Dh202.79bn) in financing.

This investment comes despite difficulties facing policymakers in China, who are keen to increase infrastructure spending to prop up flagging economic growth rates, but they don't wish to add more high-risk debt on the books of Chinese banks, still reeling from the bad loans issued during the last infrastructure spending spree in 2009 and 2010.

Another area where Asia is seeing major investment is in dam projects. Some of these are more popular than others.

The Myitsone hydropower dam on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar is expected to supply up to 4,600 megawatts of electricity when it is completed.

However, China's state-owned China Power Investment Corporation, which plans to build the dam in collaboration with Myanmar's ministry of electric power as well as Asia World Co, is having a hard time convincing locals of the need for the project.

China can add another superlative to its growing collection - the world's biggest building.

The New Century Global Centre has opened for business in the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu. Its dimensions are mind-boggling: the largest freestanding building in the world; capable of housing 20 Sydney Opera Houses; and almost three times the size of the Pentagon in Washington.

The monster structure is 500 metres long, 400 metres wide and 100 metres high and sprawls over 1.7 million square metres in an area of Chengdu, the Tianfu New District, which is being constructed as part of the city's plans to boost its international profile.

The Chicago architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill - who are working on the world's tallest building under construction, the 1km-high Kingdom Tower in Jeddah - have been given the task of building the 1.3 square kilometre sustainable city that will host the New Century Global Centre, while the British architect Zaha Hadid built the Chengdu Contemporary Arts Centre nearby.